I have professed my love to independent comics numerous times over my years of writing here. There have been so many greats, that it would be difficult for me to name my top list. Every comic I have written about has been loved for different reasons. Some because they are so ridiculous and over the top it is impossible not to, others because they genuinely scared me, and then there are the comics that I feel are something truly special- the ones that really hit home and touch a special place in my heart. Growing Up Aspie by Nathan McConnell falls into that category. I can unequivocally say that these comics are some of the most important ones I have had the pleasure of experiencing. I say important because they dive heavily into what it's like for a person with Asperger's. Until talking with Nathan, I didn't understand Asperger's. I still don't know everything about it, but having Nathan break it down for me, I walked away knowing much more. Nathan explained it to me like this,
Basically the original understanding of Autism is that it was a mental illness. Over time, they realized (more specifically Dr. Asperger) realized that it was a disorder. The more we learn about autism from people like Temple Grandin and books like Neurotribes, we realize that Autistic people are simply another neurotype. What that means is we are supposed to be here, we understand things differently, we process things differently, and we think differently. We do struggle, but more so from the fact that this world is not specifically designed for us, and less from the fact that we are Autistic.
My struggles growing up (outside of hypersensitivity to all of my senses including emotional intake from other people. Or as some might call it, 'being an empath') actually stemmed from human interaction. Being judged for my idiosyncrasies, not understanding lies, sarcasm, wordplay, or non-straightforward linguistics. Side note, I'm a pro at all of those now. But it comes from years and years of bullying, ostracizing, and losing a game of popularity due to the fact that the game was not set up for us.
We don't say the right things and often don't know how we are going to affect the people we are talking to. We do have many major differences, but it really boils down to the fact that our different way of thinking has been necessary to the furtherment of mankind, long before we knew autism existed. We have always been here. Many historic figures are now thought to have been autistic. DaVinci, Nikola Tesla, Einstein, and many more people are thought to have been autistic. Their special way of thinking was what brought us forward in the realms of art science and other forms of knowledge.
When you say Neurotype what do you mean by that? How does Autism and Asperger's affect the brain differently is it a chemical thing or is it physical?
Well, neurotype refers to a difference in brain. In the case of Autism, it is a combination of both chemical and physical. The physical makeup changes the chemical makeup. Many of us are different, but neurotype is the difference between neurotypical, and neurodivergent which refers to Autism and other neuro types. Basically instead of seeing ourselves as broken, mentally ill, or Monsters as groups like Autism Speaks would like us to be seen as, we see ourselves as a different neuro type or neurotribe as the one book would call us.
Let me ask you this, what therapies are available that help?
Well that is the thing. The majority of Autism therapies are designed to force us to act neurotypical. Therapies like ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis) are torturous and force us to lose who we are. They use electric shock, slaps on the wrist and face, and other abusive methods to train us like dogs to act neurotypical. Many survivors of ABA either end up with PTSD or a strange form of Stockholm Syndrome where they are thankful for it.
When did you begin, Growing Up Aspie?
I started it in August of 2014 during a pretty hopeless point in my life. I had recently lost one of the few jobs I had managed to attain, due to my company losing the contract I was working through. I was back to being chronically unemployed, and misunderstood by everyone around me. In a way, it was a frustrated attempt to be understood and turned into so much more.
What are some things that you do that help connect with others? I know you mentioned Kung Fu previously, can you go into that further?
Practicing kung-fu and meditation have helped me tremendously over the years. Not so much from mutual students, but by giving me a sense of patience to deal with the frustrations of figuring people out, and the inner strength to control how I interacted. Skateboarding used to help me meet people and give me a sense of common ground. Recently, my connections have been mostly online in Autism communities, and on my comics.
Does social media offer support, and if so- what are some groups/pages that you've found to be helpful?
I think social media can be a big support to Autistic people. You do have to avoid the bullies and echo chambers that tend to appear there. Hearing what sounds nice is not the same as hearing the truth. We have to be honest with ourselves about things to truly support each other, and I believe a lot of times there's a good mix of all of that going on.
There are many more as well, but those are a good start.
How has creating this comic helped you?
I think it's helped me in similar ways to my readers. Seeing these things that you thought were all in your head and watch hundreds of people say "Oh my God, me too. I thought I was the only one." has helped me as much as it helps them to see it. It's added to the validation of ideas that just before then, were laughed at by the people around me, and has helped me realize that a lot of the time, Autistic people aren't at fault for the misunderstandings that we are often blamed for. In short, it has given me insight, and peace of mind I never would've found otherwise.
What responses have you received from readers?
I've been sent everything from "I'm crying so hard right now reading your comics" to "your posts have changed my life" and everything in between. I've had Autistic people, their friends, family, and partners all write me and thank me for what I do, and how I've helped them understand themselves, or their loved ones.
Honestly, I've never received praise like that outside my comics, and it's a good thing I've built up a negative balance in my self-esteem account otherwise it might go to my head. I'm grateful for every message, comment, and review that reminds me that I'm doing the right thing, going the right way and that what I do has value.
I know you've done crossover comics with other creators can you share some of those with us?
How do you feel about Comics tackling complex issues? Do you think we are headed in the right direction?
I think comics have always been a more attainable and easily accepted medium than most. Comics have always had the ability to reach different types of people, and I feel like we as a species treat cartoons as a safe way to digest concepts. similar to the old cartoons where someone "dies," and end up in heaven with clouds, wings, and a harp. Death is a heavy concept but because it's a cartoon we both understand in a way what it means to die, and are able to enjoy and laugh at the concept as well.
A similar thing happens when a comic covers serious issues especially if you are used to the comedic comics. You care about a character and know who they are through years of comics, and when they say, "ok this is a serious issue", and portray it just right, it is taken in more openly than a news article, or broadcast ever could be. Especially in these days of misinformation. With a little time and effort, many comic artists have been able to get their point across and shape the way we see things, and I think if that is what it takes to change the world then let's keep going that way.
What is some of the best advice you've received in either your career or personal life?
I had the pleasure of coming into contact with Bob Camp of Ren and Stimpy fame (and 100's of other cartoons we all grew up with) and his advice to me was, "not to wait for someone to pay you to do what you do. To start creating now, finish projects, and get paid for it when that day comes. Because nobody is going to give you a shot on the idea that you might be talented or you, 'might have something there.' They want to see the proof, and after that, you're in."
What advice do you have to give to creators or those that might be struggling?
When it comes to being a creator, the thing that seems to separate the "successful" from the "unsuccessful" is that successful artists (or artists that want to have a product to sell) don't wait around for inspiration or "artistic juices") to come to them, they treat creating things like it is their job.
That being said, there is absolutely nothing wrong with being a "hobbyist or a professional artist who works that way unless your plan is to get hired for productions and final products with a deadline. If that is your goal, Be your own boss, give yourself a goal, and a deadline, and hit it by setting time aside to chip away at that goal. Whether you want to work for a company, or yourself, that is what will ensure you have a shot at succeeding.
What do you hope to accomplish next with your work in comics?
I plan to expand what I do into music, animations, videos, games, and more, and I'd like to do it full time at some point. I could do so much more if I had the time. There are so many subjects that I feel I could just explain if I was just given the time necessary to create them. I just finished a press kit that I plan on sending out to news sites, agents, and publishers to hopefully help give me that chance at that.
I just want to say that I really love the strips with your wife. I thought they really beautiful.
Why thank you. She's been a big part of helping me finally break through a lot of boundaries whether they be my own or the ones people put in front of me. And she's helped undo a lot of the damage that was done by everyone before her as well. So I am very grateful for everything she's done and continues to do in my and now our son's life.
Will you be at any conventions this year?
I have yet to do any conventions because with the way my life is right now I'm either working at my job, working on side work, or working on my comic (when I'm not making time for my family of course.) But if something strikes my fancy, I might just do one.
Where can we follow you on social media or other websites?
I have several sites people can follow me on:
Where can your work be purchased from?
My book is available on Amazon:
Growing Up Aspie: Year One
My shirts and other cool stuff can be found on TeePublic
That wraps up the interview with Nathan. I would like to add that throughout reading his book, there were several points where I related to what he was going through: bullying, being an outcast, passed over for jobs or promotions. I think everyone can find something to relate to in these comics. What's more is, this has been an incredibly eye opening experience for me, looking into the world of those that have Asperger's or are on the Autism spectrum. I strongly believe that this book is a fantastic read for anyone. I think it is truly special to have comics like this available. I'd like to say thank you to Nathan for the wonderful interview, and I urge all of you to please check out his work.